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The 2024 Guide to TikTok Influencer Marketing

From its vast user base to its innovative features, TikTok has become an indispensable tool for brands looking to harness the power of influencer marketing. Let’s talk about TikTok influencer marketing.

TikTok has emerged as a global sensation and a dominant channel for helping brands grab the attention of the platform’s one billion active users. TikTok has fundamentally changed the influencer marketing landscape with its massive audience, record-breaking engagement, and viral videos. So, let’s talk about TikTok – what it is, why people spend SO much time in the app, how/why the engagement continues to be insane, and how you can build a strategy for highly effective TikTok influencer marketing.


What is TikTok?

TikTok is a short-form video app where creators make and share video content that often includes audio already available and/or trending on the platform. 

TikTok is sort of like the cool aunt – knows all the latest trends (or sets them herself), plus she can be controversial in a way that makes young people root for her.  

Controversy? Yeah. TikTok stays entrenched in it. The app continues to thrive and grow even though Washington was threatening to ban TikTok as recently as this past spring. But then, there have been several threats to “cancel” or ban the video-sharing app already, haven’t there? #shrug

TikTok continues to triumph and it remains an entertainment mainstay for Millennials, Generation Z, and a growing army of Gen X creators.

Cool Origin Story, Bro

Here’s the story of TikTok. TikTok is owned by Bytedance, a Chinese company and unicorn startup. In 2019, it surpassed Uber as the MOST VALUABLE TECH STARTUP IN THE WORLD when it reached a valuation of $79 billion dollars… are these still called startups?).

Bytedance bought, which was already popular in the US and Europe, to merge it with an app it had already launched in China called Douyin. In 2017 Douyin and merged and launched as TikTok in markets outside of China. In China, the app’s name is still Douyin.

Like Snapchat, the nature of the trends in TikTok is pretty short-lived. What could be popular on YouTube for weeks, is popular on TikTok for some days. It’s a here today, gone today sort of thing.

So far, TikTok kinda sounds like all the other platforms, right? Well, here’s where things get super awesome. 

And interesting…

And technical and stuff.

But mostly awesome.

TikTok’s Golden Goose: The Interest Graph

TikTok’s algorithm is its secret sauce. The algorithm personalizes the content users see, making it a highly addictive platform – we’re talking 1AM-and-you-gotta-be-up-by 6AM-but-you-can’t-stop-watching-videos addictive. That’s what I hear anyway.  😳

Users can discover and engage with a wide variety of entertaining and engaging content, and it will always be content that interests them. That’s because TikTok’s algorithm is based around what is known as the interest graph.

Social Graph


Interest Graph illustration

Since TikTok’s Interest Graph burst onto the scene, Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn have followed suit, prioritizing displaying content in line with the specific interest of their individual users over just filling feeds with posts from the people in your network.

TikTok’s ability to keep people – consumers – on the platform, highly engaged, and sharing content across channels has many brands trying to decide how to include TikTok and TikTok creators as part of their influencer marketing strategies. Enter TikTok influencer marketing.


What is TikTok Influencer Marketing?

TikTok influencer marketing allows brands to partner with TikTok creators who are already experts at leveraging fun, entertaining, short-form video content to reach the platform’s highly-engaged audience. TikTokers are virtual masters at making everyday situations hilarious and supremely enjoyable to watch. Which in turn, makes them masters at creating native-looking sponsored content for your next influencer marketing campaign. 

TikTok’s organic reach is phenomenal when compared to the other platforms. And the short form video app has a billion users a day spread across 154 countries. Talk about reach!

Case in point…

This seemingly random video about a cat meeting puppies for the first time – 10M likes (not including comments and shares) with 52M views – that’s an engagement rate of more than 20 percent. 

A tragic back story @traveler9314 #cats #catsoftiktok #funny #dub
♬ original sound – KLR Productions

How Popular is TikTok?

TikTok has grown insanely fast with much of that growth happening in 2020, during pandemic lockdown 

  • By the end of 2020, TikTok had been downloaded 850 million times with 315 million downloads occuring in the first 3 months of 2020 alone.
  • 63 percent of social media users 12 to 17 years old are on the platform at least once a week, up nearly 30 percent from 2020. 
  • In both the US and the UK, TikTokers under the age of 24 spend more time daily on the app than they do watching traditional TV.  
  • 68 percent of TikTok’s global audience is over the age of 19 years old. 
  • But don’t count out Mom and Dad just yet. One in five TikTok users are over the age of 40. 

Should Your Brand Build a Presence on TikTok?

Glad you asked. Like most social media platforms, TikTok is all user-generated content. But, unlike Facebook or Instagram where most of what shows up in your feed is from the people you know, TikTok is more focused on introducing users to new content.


Ding! Ding! Ding! Jackpot!

TikTok users are getting hours and hours of quirky, free entertainment… and lots of chances to be discovered by other users and rapidly growing their own follower base, an opportunity that seems to be all but lost on other popular social media platforms right now.

The content created is, most of the time, very niche. Very “had to be there” in nature. You’ll find pet lovers, comedians, food lovers, and every niche you can imagine. So, if you’re angling to create an account in TikTok, think about how you’ll appeal to users in other niches, and how your brand aligns with TikTok communities that already have a lot of eyes.

Another thing about TikTok that will be of interest to marketers is that they give everyone the same chance (and the same tools) to create their own content. The company’s mission is to “[empower] everyone to be a creator directly from their smartphones, [and] building a community by encouraging users to share their passion and creative expression through their videos.”

How to Start TikTok Influencer Marketing

Although TikTok is a short-form video platform, audio is the tie that binds on TikTok. Music and audio are an important part of the TikTok experience as different sounds trend on the platform at different times. These can be songs, movie and television clips, text-to-voice features, or even something spoken by the content’s creator. That means for just about any piece of TikTok content, a creator will typically build their content ideas around trending sounds or aim to make another sound go viral. 

Back in the day, artists used to try to break new songs in major markets by pandering to radio station program directors. Today, new songs break, and old songs are reborn on TikTok as the soundtrack of popular campaigns, trends, and challenges.

One fun-to-watch 2021 trend – the #CanWeTalkChallenge – invited professional singers and celebrities to deliver their best vocal performances of the chorus to an R&B song that topped the charts way back in 1993.

At the time of the song’s original release, the singer, Tevin Campbell, was only 16 or 17 years old. So, it was fun watching some of the best and most well-known vocalists in the world using TikToks to prove that they’re as good a singer as Campbell was when he was legit going through puberty.   Dude, look at this👇🏽  vinyl record, produced by Quincy Jones (who also produced Ray Charles, Little Richard, Michael Jackson and Dizzy Gillespie) and Benny Medina (who produced the ORIGINAL Fresh Prince of Bel-Air in 1990-something). This sucker’s a throwback jam

#canwetalkchallenge #rnb #rnbvibes #rnbvibes4eva #tevincampbell #sang #tank #fyp #blacktok
♬ original sound – torikellysangelz


How to Reach Your Goals with TikTok Influencer Marketing

First, Find the Right Creator for the Job

Once you’ve set your influencer marketing campaign goals, consider building personas or rough concepts of the kind of content creators you feel would be the best fit for your TikTok influencer marketing campaign. This is someone who would align well with your brand AND who already has the attention of your target audience. If you’re not sure how to find the best fit, you’re not alone. A whopping 3 in 4 marketing teams have trouble finding the right influencers for their campaigns.

We’re pretty good at that, actually.  And at TikTok influencer marketing. You know, because of the data.  

Try a Branded Hashtag Challenge

It’s not just 90s pop stars who’re benefitting from TikTok challenges. A branded hashtag challenge is a way to quickly cut through the noise. TikTokers have a tendency to gamify hashtag challenges (like with the #CanWeTalkChallenge). So, a branded hashtag challenge that you can boost with participation from well-chosen TikTok creators can quickly build momentum.

One TikTok influencer campaign that stands out is our Crocs activation that we ran for Famous Footwear. We worked with young Gen Z influencers who were trendy and fashion-forward to share how they style their Crocs and celebrate #Croctober.

This campaign did a beautiful job of highlighting crocs in a cool way (despite their less fashionable reputation), showing they are making a comeback, and repositioning them as cool by having cool kids 👩‍🎤 wear them. We looped in many TikTokers, and overall, the campaign had a lot of engagements – we saw triple the engagements we expected! You can read our Famous Footwear #Croctober case study here, actually)

Back To School looks with @famousfootwear #ad #FamousFootwear #BackToFamous #FamousTogether #TimeforTENET #VinylCheck
♬ original sound – Jazlynn Q


Kantar notes that apparel company River Island noticed that 90 percent of website visitors were new users after their hashtags campaign #glowingout went live. That one campaign – which now connects you to 422.8M videos – all started with 8 TikTok creators. TikTok offers a real opportunity to significantly shorten your sales cycle and get consumers from awareness to conversions faster, online and offline. 

Find the Perfect Mix of Marketing + Entertainment Value 

Factors like the music, characters, voiceovers, or even the occasional celebrity can all impact your TikTok marketing efforts. Your influencer marketing campaign could easily outperform a television spot with the right strategy.

Ask for help from the TikTok creators who know their communities best and trust them through the process of creating the right content – and the right content is content that won’t seem like an ad or a sponsored post. Stay open during the forming of your influencer marketing strategy. And be diligent when it comes to tracking, analyzing and adjusting your TikTok influencer marketing activation. 

Make Sure You’re On the Platform, Too 

You need to be on the platform. You really do. TikTok’s reach and ability to get your brand in front of millions of eyes is unparalleled right now. So, if your buyer is on the platform, it’s in your best interest to have a presence on TikTok as well. What would you do on TikTok? Dances? Riffing on 90s pop songs? Maybe, but that’s not the only thing you can do on TikTok.

TikTok’s the perfect spot to display your cool company culture and your quirky team. Or poke fun at your long meetings or even longer commute. It’s the perfect place to develop a voice, run virtual events, and interact with users if that fits your brand’s voice and goals.

mad skills #lush #retail #retailworker #retaillife #fypシ #trending #skills #lushcarmarthen
♬ Believe Me – Navos

Here’s something interesting: TikTok found that 61 percent of users like brands more when they participate in trends and immerse themselves in the [TikTok] culture, while 21 percent of TikTokers feel more connected to brands that comment on users’ posts. If you want some inspiration, look to a few brands we think are doing it right like the Washington Post, Lush (featured in the TikTok above), or Chipotle.


TikTok isn’t going anywhere, and part of the reason is that it’s a fun place where anyone can grow an audience without the need for fancy editing tools or a customized brand color palette. Something as simple as capitalizing on a trend or copying a dance, or adding a funny sound byte can make a video go viral and grow a TikToker’s audience overnight. Like, literally, overnight. For brands, TikTok influencer marketing presents a really great opportunity to partner with creators who can help you step out of your run-of-the-mill marketing iniatives to create a catalog of fresh, raw content that’s creative, hyper-targeted, and genuinely entertaining. 

👀 And There’s More TikTok Wizardry Where This Came From!

We pulled together a nice, tidy rabbit hole for you on related topics that will make you an expert at this whole TikTok Influencer Marketing thing. #yw

Digital marketing strategies fit together like puzzle pieces.

Your influencer campaign should be one of those pieces.

The Shelf is an influencer marketing agency that creates full-funnel influencer campaigns to help brands leverage touchpoints at every stage of the purchase process.

We partner brands with Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube storytellers for campaigns customized to boost the ROI of your overarching paid digital marketing strategy.

Not sure how to integrate influencers into your larger digital strategy? We have people who can walk you through that process... and give you some great ideas along the way. Click to schedule a strategy call.

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